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Associations between behaviour and health outcomes in conventional and slow-growing breeds of broiler chicken

Abeyesinghe, Siobhan; Abeyesinghe, Siobhan; Chancellor, Natalie; Hernandez Moore, Daisy; Chang, Yu-Mei; Pearce, Justine; Demmers, Theo; Nicol, Christine


Siobhan Abeyesinghe

Siobhan Abeyesinghe

Natalie Chancellor

Daisy Hernandez Moore

Yu-Mei Chang

Justine Pearce

Theo Demmers

Christine Nicol


Broiler chickens are prone to a range of complex health and welfare issues. To support informed selection of welfare traits whilst minimising impact on production efficiency and to address a major gap in understanding, we systematically explored associations between health and behavioural indicators of broiler welfare. One conventional (CNV, n=350) and two slow growing broiler breeds (SGH and SGN, respectively n=400) were reared from hatch in pens of 50. Birds were assessed for health (gait, plumage cover and dirtiness, pododermatits, hockburn, and leg deviations) at 2.2 kg liveweight according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) Broiler Breed Welfare Assessment Protocol. Behaviour and resource use of 10% of birds per pen, on days 29 (all breeds) and 43 (SGH and SGN), was (i) scan sampled every 60 min between three to six and twelve to fifteen hours after photoperiod onset; and (ii) continuously sampled sequentially from focal birds for 3 min each in a random order, during 15 min observation periods at three and twelve hours after photoperiod onset. Binary logistic generalized linear models were used, to assess respective associations between pen prevalence of each health outcome and (i) pen mean percentage scans of behaviour, and (ii) pen mean frequency and duration per 3 min focal observation of behaviour. Better growth rate and feed conversion but poorer health outcomes (mortality, gait, pododermatitis, feather cover) were more prevalent in CNV. Strong associations between behaviour and several heath indicators revealed, (i) increases in side-lying inactive, sitting inactive, and use of the litter relative to other resources, as primary and general indicators of poorer health, and (ii) increases in standing inactive, perch use, walking, Comfort, High Energy and Exploratory behaviour as primary and general indicators of better health. Of these, changes in side-lying, standing inactive, walking, Comfort and High Energy behaviour were particularly sensitive to small differences in health outcomes important for breed acceptance in high welfare schemes. Crucially these behavioural measures additionally represent motivational and affective aspects of welfare not captured by health measures and allow opportunity for earlier intervention. Thus, to provide a comprehensive assessment of broiler experience, behaviour should be incorporated into broiler welfare assessments.


Abeyesinghe, S., Abeyesinghe, S., Chancellor, N., Hernandez Moore, D., Chang, Y., Pearce, J., …Nicol, C. (2021). Associations between behaviour and health outcomes in conventional and slow-growing breeds of broiler chicken. animal, 15(7), Article 100261.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 22, 2021
Online Publication Date Jun 11, 2021
Publication Date Jun 11, 2021
Deposit Date Jun 11, 2021
Publicly Available Date Jun 11, 2021
Journal Animal: The International Journal of Animal Biosciences
Print ISSN 1751-7311
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 15
Issue 7
Article Number 100261
Series ISSN 1751-7311,
Keywords poultry, animal welfare, hockburn, leg-health, welfare-assessment
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Data available to share upon request held on RVC research drive


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